Monday, April 11, 2011

Travel Journal#7.2-3: Gainesville, Tallahassee, and the Ocala Rainbow Gathering

Dairy of a Traveling Sadhaka, Vol. 7, Nos. 2-3

By Krishna-kripa das

(January 2011, part two / February 2011, part one)

Gainesville, Tallahassee, and Ocala Rainbow Gathering

Where I Went and What I Did

From mid January to mid February 2011, I was mostly in Gainesville except a week I spent in Tallahassee and a day I spent in Ocala National Forest at a Rainbow Gathering. Unfortunately, I lost the notes on the lectures I heard from the middle of January to the middle of February. My new ASUS Netbook was not hibernating very fast, and I was afraid the stewardess would yell at me for continuing to use my computer during takeoff, so I pushed the on/off button, and the file system on the hard disk got messed up. Brahmatirtha Prabhu had previously advised me to save my work on Google Documents, as I am always traveling, and if I had followed that advice, I would not have lost anything. I had a few interesting experiences in later January and early February. Most exciting for me was a group of twenty or so devotees, mostly associated with Krishna House, went to the Ocala Regional Rainbow Gathering and chanting for hours and distributed lots of prasadam. One student wrote an article about our programs at Krishna House and got an amazing grade. I investigated a meeting of the Christian/Skeptics Club at Florida State University and was reminded again about limitations of human intellect to understand the Absolute Truth.

Chanting and Prasadam at the Ocala Regional Rainbow Gathering

Devotees have been sharing their chanting and spiritual food at Rainbow Gatherings since the 1970s. The national ones would get 25,000 people, but the smaller regional ones like the one in Ocala National Forest in mid February just get several hundreds. The people are not so much into peace and love as in the 1970s, and for some it is just an opportunity to take intoxication and spend time with friends in a natural setting. Still many of the attendees like the devotees, their music, and their spiritual food, especially their halava. People were very appreciative. Some sang and danced with us. Mother Caitanya distributed lots of literature. Tulasirani dd taught a young lady how to chant Hare Krishna on beads. Special thanks to Andrea Perez Del Solar and Damodar Prasad, whose pictures posted on Facebook illustrate this account.

We began with a rousing Nrsimha-kirtana in the van by the most crowded band I have ever been in!

We started by chanting and distributing prasadam in the parking lot, until we figured out where the path was.

We did not know the best way to get to the trading circle, often the best place to distribute prasadam during the day. Some people showed us a route through a swamp, and almost everyone’s shoes and socks got wet except mine. I felt a little bad for them. I suggested they hang the socks in the sun to dry instead of the shade.

This sign shows a little of the love for nature that is still present at the gatherings, despite changing times.

After carrying our buckets of food what always seems a longer distance than it really is we reached the trade circle, which is usually more of a line than a circle anyway.

I suggested we chant all the way through it and set up on the far side rather than in the middle, so as not to dominate the event and draw potential criticism. After going most of the way through, we saw a beautiful sight:

There was a string suspended between trees and two tapestries, one depicting Sri Sri Gaura Nitai (right) and the other Lord Vishnu (left). After the long journey, carrying heavy buckets through the swamp and getting soaked, upon seeing Gaura Nitai we felt relieved. We had found our home.

Garuda Prabhu from Tallahassee, seen here chanting Hare Krishna and playing the guitar, has been attending these events for over twenty years. He had created a little Krishna corner there, and we put our blankets down and chanted Hare Krishna, as the tapestry of Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityananda blew in the wind above and behind us.

Some people would sit with us while taking prasadam and others would play their own instruments.

In front of the chanting party, along the path, we set up our spaghetti (two buckets), chili (one bucket), and halava (four buckets) for distribution. After reheating the food all morning and hiking into the woods, chanting most of the way, I was very happy to get a large plate of spiritual food myself.

Sometimes I would stand on the path in front of our chanting party, singing and dancing with a scoop of a halava in hand, ready to put it on whatever plate was presented, often just an open, not so clean, palm.

We must have chanted and distributed prasadam for three or four hours until it began to get dark, and we headed to the main circle for the evening meal. After the two or three hundred people had all chanted “OM” and people encircling the bonfire put out their plates for the evening communal meal, we sang as a couple devotees distributed the last two buckets of halava. We could have used more spaghetti.

As we were leaving we heard some people we knew got their car stuck in the soft sand, and the devotees ended their Ocala National Forest adventures by helping push the car out.

Many of the devotees came to the Rainbow Gathering for the first time, and everyone liked that spiritual fieldtrip.

Distributing prasadam and chanting for appreciative people is a universally nice experience. I was very happy that the devotees were glad that they went, and I hope we can get together and share prasadam and kirtana again soon.

Student Writes Excellent Paper About Krishna House

Danielle Arnold wrote me via email, “I am a public relations students at the University of Florida. I am currently enrolled in a class called reporting and I have to write stories each week.” She went on explaining that she wanted to write about how Krishna House classes can help students reduce stress.

I talked about our meditation class, and Sagar told her about our yoga class. My favorite part of her article was an interview with Estefania Perez del Solar, a UF physics senior, who began volunteering at the Krishna House after seeing the Krishnas on campus. Estefania said, “It is really beautiful how I’ve seen myself and other people transform to be more respectful and peaceful. It is nice to share that with other people.”

I told Danielle that often news articles about the Hare Krishna’s have errors because a lot of the material is new to the authors, and so I offered to read her article over before she submitted it. She agreed, and I suggested some changes and corrected typos. Later she wrote, “I wanted to say thank you so much for helping me with my article for reporting. I am proud to say that I earned a 100% on my paper, which is UNHEARD OF!!! I couldn't have done with without you!”

I think it goes to show that when people are sincere and they cooperate with the devotees, the Lord blesses them, even by material calculation. At least that is what appears in this case. I hope Danielle goes on to write many more excellent articles about Krishna.

Skeptics and Christians Meeting at Florida State University

I had talked to a friendly Christian girl who visited my book table and who invited me to the Skeptics/Christians Club meeting at Florida State University. It sounded like a group of people discussing important philosophical and theistic issues from different perspectives, so I developed a desire to go. Independently, over the course of a couple First Fridays, Dina Bandhu Prabhu talked about Krishna philosophy with Brad Kimmons, the Christian leader of that club (there is also a skeptic leader), who also invited him to go. Unfortunately the night I was in town, Dina Bandhu had to work, so I went alone.

Here are some points from the discussion that were striking in some way, either insightful, humorous, or perhaps even ridiculous:

Student A: I always hated epistemology classes because they would always end with, “''But do you know that you know?”
Scott: Cartesian certainty does exist no matter what anyone does or says to prove it doesn't.
Student B: The postmodern people hypothesize that thought could exist without a thinker.
My comment: From the theistic prospective, at least there is God, who is the source of all thoughts [so there is a thinker].
Student C: Philosophy is to use the most complicated means to get to the most obvious explanations.
Student C: It one point, I realized I was using the dark side of my self to entertain my self.
Student D: This [referring to a Biblical passage wherein Jesus talks with the descendents of Abraham] to me shows the difference between Judiasm and Christianity. Because the Jews see the authority of God just comes through an ancestral lineage and does not come directly, and thus when Jesus spoke as if God was presently communicating with him, the Jews considered Jesus was blasphemous.
Scott: In mathematics an “if-then” statement is considered to be “true,” if the antecedent is false, then the statement as a whole is considered “true.”
Mary: Satan occurs in the Bible encouraging Eve to take the fruit, then with God’s permission, taking everything away from Job [to show that he would remain faithful to God in the face of material deprivation], and offering Jesus the whole material world for his enjoyment.
Student F: It is interesting that although Abraham is put on a very high pedestal, in our culture if someone claimed God told him to sacrifice his son, we would think he was crazy.
Mary: Of course, the angel did not let him perform the sacrifice of his son, and there was no future case of God every promoting or allowing child sacrifice. Also previously, God told Abraham to move his entire family to a distant land all of a sudden, and he did that. Also he had a child when he and his wife were way too old, so old, his wife laughed, and the child was named Isaac, which means “laughter.” So he had a history of doing things most people would not do in order to please the Lord.

Brad played a tape of Christian preacher Tim Keller on the problem of evil. Here are some notes:
One way one should not face evil and suffering in this world is to back away from God. It does not help you understand suffering.
Martin Luther King said, “If there is no higher divine law, then how can we know if a human law is wrong.” Sartre said, “If there is no God, there is no a priori good.”
If you don't believe in God, there is just as much as suffering, and in fact there is more, because then there would be no morality, and people would cause even more mischief.
Peter gives three ways to deal with suffering, “You have to look back to something, look ahead to something, and into look something.”
Peter uses an analogy of a fire that purifies metals to harden them.
God promises in Isaiah when you are thrown in the fiery furnace of affliction, you will not be burned.
Keller claims that as Jesus, God experienced more suffering that anyone else, and that his proof he is not indifferent to our suffering and not inattentive to us.
Thus Keller argues one should look back to Jesus's suffering he was willing to do, and look forward to one's own immortality,
He further states that at the time of his crucifixion, Jesus’s only hope that he did not already possess in the kingdom of God, was that others would benefit spiritually by his suffering, and that helped him to go through the suffering.

I commented that Jesus’s going through that experience of suffering to help others is good example, and Srila Prabhupada would often use it to illustrate the compassion of a Vaishnava [God’s devotee].

I also mentioned that to say that God has to come and experience our suffering in order to empathize with us is putting a limit on God. He could just as easily experience it without having to go through it Himself.

Brenden replied, “I think that to say God is unlimited is also limiting Him in a sense.” [I laughed at that, as in my fifty-one years of hearing metaphysical conversations in this body, I had never heard that one before! In retrospect, it is interesting that Srila Prabhupada says that Krishna has both limited potencies (His expansions as individual souls) as well as unlimited potencies (His personal expansions) and thus having both limited and unlimited potencies, He can be considered omnipotent.]

Many of the people, both Christians and skeptics, as far as I could see, were not satisfied with Tim Keller’s explanation of the problem of evil. I thought the best part was his glorification of Christ’s compassion, but otherwise it did not completely satisfy me. Hare Krishnas would have mentioned other points such as how past sinful reactions play a part in the sufferings of men, how, as spiritual beings, we have nothing to do with the sufferings of the body, and also how by meditation on the Lord, one can forget the sufferings of the body. Perhaps, had it not been 10 p.m. and had the meeting not already gone on for two and a half hours, I might have made all those points [although I mentioned one or two to some of the people as we were leaving].

It was an interesting experience attending the meeting and hearing the views of the different people who were trying to understand life’s meaning. Some people were appreciative of my statements from a Hare Krishna viewpoint, and some suggested it would be good to include theistic perspectives from the east. I may attend again when I return to Tallahassee in the fall.


tarko ’pratishthah srutayo vibhinna

nasav rishir yasya matam na bhinnam

dharmasya tattvam nihitam guhayam

mahajano yena gatah sa panthah

“Dry arguments are inconclusive. A great personality whose opinion does not differ from others is not considered a great sage. Simply by studying the Vedas, which are variegated, one cannot come to the right path by which religious principles are understood. The solid truth of religious principles is hidden in the heart of an unadulterated, self-realized person. Consequently, as the sastras [scriptures] confirm, one should accept whatever progressive path the mahajanas [great spiritual authorities] advocate.” (King Yudhisthira quoted in Mahabharata, Vana-parva 313.117)